Ellen DeGeneres is no stranger to controversy. She first faced backlash after publicly coming out as gay in 1997. At that time, she starred in the self-titled ABC sitcom, Ellen, and two weeks after her own coming out announcement her character also came out as gay. The episode was the highest rated of the series but drew major backlash from conservative right-wing groups and critics. Despite being praised for her honesty and bravery, as well as appearing on the cover of Time magazine, advertisers eventually backed out in response to the negative publicity, and the show was canceled. More than twenty years later, Ellen has once again found herself at the center of controversy as rumors of an inappropriate, disrespectful, and toxic work environment began to circulate throughout the media earlier this year.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show has received 171 Daytime Emmy Award nominations, including 61 wins. The show also has a YouTube channel called “ellentube”, which is currently one of the top 20 most subscribed channels on YouTube. The show features celebrity and musical guests, audience participation games, comedy, and human-interest stories. There is an entire week dedicated to giveaways and each day the audience receive prizes valued at several thousands of dollars. Due to the popularity of the show, the celebrity guests, and prize giveaways, Ellen has been referred to as the friendliest person in Hollywood and boasts the nickname, “the be kind lady”.
On Jan 22, 2020, Ellen invited guest Nikkie De Jager, a transgender makeup artist and YouTuber who has over 12 million subscribers and goes by the moniker “NikkieTutorials”, to be a guest on her show. The show seemed to air like any other, but a month later, during an appearance on the Dutch talk show “De Wereld Draait Door”, De Jager announced that her experience had not been a positive one. She also gave an interview to &C magazine stating that the friendly, welcoming atmosphere observed by viewers was a facade. “Maybe I’m being naive, but I expected them to welcome me with confetti: Welcome to ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’!” De Jager said in an interview reported by Pop Crave. De Jager also revealed that while most guests of the show are given access to their own private restroom, she was made to walk to a public restroom because the private one that would have been meant for her was reserved for the Jonas Brothers who were also guests of the show that day.
A few weeks following De Jager’s revelation, a Twitter thread posted by Kevin T. Porter asked for people to post stories about “mean Ellen DeGeneres” and over 2000 responses were posted. Former employees and guests alleged that Ellen was not the friendly person she appears to be on the show, but instead contended that Ellen was a mean dictator of a boss who demanded that employees not speak or look directly at her. A former employee also leaked that Ellen would giggle when executive produces berated employees during business meetings. While it’s difficult to prove these stories true, the fact that there are so many suggests that the truth may not be far off. For this reason, an internal investigation was initiated by Warner Brothers.
After the announcement of the investigation, other celebrities began posting their own experiences and opinions on social media. Katie Perry and Kevin Hart spoke out in support of Ellen, both saying that Ellen had shown only love and respect to them. Contrarily, lesser notable celebrities like Lea Thompson and Brad Garrett confirmed what most people were saying via their own social media, causing speculation that Ellen only panders to big named celebrities.
Ellen apologized several times over the course of the investigation, while reports of her callousness continued to leak in the news and over social media. Before the end of season 17, the show was forced to halt production in the studio due to Covid-19, and filming was moved to Ellen’s house while she stayed in quarantine. DeGeneres received additional backlash for hiring an outside crew to film during quarantine, leaving her current employees to wonder how they would be paid or if they even had a future with the show. Rumors sparked that the show would be cancelled, or that James Corden would take over as host.
On September 21, 2020, after months of speculation, the 18th season of The Ellen DeGeneres Show premiered. Viewers waited over half a year to see how the show would fare and how Ellen would respond to all the negative rumors. The episode had been promoted with Ellen confirming that, “yes, we’re going to talk about it.” It would be the first time Ellen publicly addressed the malicious reports of a toxic work environment and a phony personality. Three former executive producers had already been fired and viewers were curious to see what other changes the show would make.
Ellen started her monologue by speaking to a virtual audience full of screens displaying live feeds of people who were watching from their computers at home. Looking directly at the camera she quipped, “If you’re watching, because your love me, thank you. If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome.” She smiled most of the time and sarcastically joked about having a “terrific” Summer. She told her viewers that the person they see on her show is one in the same with the person who she is in real life. She also announced that she had promoted her resident DJ tWitch, to co-executive producer. While her apology fell short with many people, the episode received better ratings than the previous year.
During a time when cancel culture has been prevalent in ruining many a public figure’s career, it seems that Ellen DeGeneres has made a narrow escape. Maybe due to the fact that she has friends in high places or maybe it’s simply because people genuinely believe she is the nicest person in Hollywood, Ellen has, so far, saved face. At this point, however, she is on thin ice and only her actions and attitude going forward will decide her future as “the be kind lady.”
Adam Schnurstein for The Rebel Feed